Justin Poore’s early sending off left Wakefield Trinity Wildcats wondering what could have been as the 12 men battled hard but could not stop Wigan Warriors returning back to the top of Super League with a 44-24 win at the DW Stadium.
Poore saw red for punching Liam Farrell ten minutes into Sunday’s clash and with Wakefield already trailing 10-0 after struggling out of the blocks.
Referee Robert Hicks was left with no option other than to dismiss the Australian prop and leave Richard Agar’s men with an even tougher job on their hands against Super League’s form team.
Wildcats actually battled back to lead for a short time after being reduced to 12 men and kept the contest alive in the second half with a spirited showing but, for the most part, Shaun Wane’s men were in control and Sam Tomkins led the hosts home with a hat-trick.
Wakefield could take plenty of positives from the match, however, notably the fact the 12 men managed to post more points against Wigan than any other side has managed to do so far this season.
Captain Danny Kirmond was forced to withdraw from the Wakefield squad due to a sore knee, meaning Chris Annakin was handed his full debut at second row alongside Vince Mellars as Agar freshened things up by leaving Ali Lauitiiti and Andy Raleigh on the bench following the Easter double-header. Lee Smith replaced Reece Lyne at centre.
Warriors had Josh Charnley and Sean O’Loughlin sidelined through injury, while Pat Richards did not play after failing to return from a friend’s wedding in Australia on time.
It left the hosts without their two first-choice wingers but that mattered little as their replacements, Iain Thornley and Anthony Gelling, both crossed inside the first eight minutes to put Wigan 10-0 up.
Wildcats had not got going and an already-tough challenge was made even tougher when Poore was sent off. The prop was taking a carry inside his own half when he clashed with Farrell. Both players seemed to throw punches but only Poore was dealt with, being shown his marching orders.
Wigan would have been expected to take a real hold of the game but instead Wildcats upped their intensity levels and Warriors relaxed, allowing the visitors to stun the home crowd with two quick-fire tries to lead.
First, Vince Mellars made a superb darting run, throwing off a number of challenges to cross the line, before Paul Aiton broke free of the Wigan defence three minutes later to put Richard Mathers in. Paul Sykes kicked Wakefield ahead with the conversion.
It did not last long as Warriors hit back with four tries in just ten minutes. Thornley crossed for his second of the afternoon before Tomkins, Darrell Goulding and Farrell followed him over.
Ben Cockayne was held up over the line as Wildcats kept pushing for a way back into the game but Wigan took a commanding 30-12 lead into the break.
With the extra man, that should have been that as far as Wigan were concerned and tries from Gelling and Tomkins, both unconverted, looked to cement their win.
But Wakefield, who resumed the second half without an injured Mathers and shuffled their pack, moving Sykes to full-back, refused to throw in the towel and made sure Warriors were involved in a contest in the second half.
Lee Smith pulled a try back and came inches from touching down on a second minutes later when he just missed a Tim Smith grubber kick on the last tackle.
Paul Aiton did manage another try and with Sykes converting it left Wildcats 14 points away from their visitors.
Any hopes of a famous fight back were put to bed ten minutes from time, however, when full-back Tomkins raced three quarters of the pitch to touch down for his hat-trick try and ensure Wigan a place back at the top of the ladder.
Wigan: Tomkins, Thornley, Goulding, Hughes, Gelling, Green, Smith, Crosby, McIlorum, Flower, Tuson, Farrell, Burke. Subs: Dudson, Taylor, Powell, Spencer.
Tries: Thornley (3, 24), Gelling (8, 43), Tomkins (27, 53, 71), Goulding 29, Farrell 33.
Goals: Smith 5/8, Powell 0/1.
Wakefield: Mathers, Fox, Collis, L Smith, Cockayne, Sykes, T Smith, Poore, Aiton, Wilkes, Annakin, Mellars, Washbrook. Subs: Raleigh, Wood, Lauitiiti, Amor.
Tries: Mellars (17), Mathers (20), L Smith (55), Aiton (67).
Goals: Sykes 4/4.
Referee: Robert Hicks.